Citizens State of the City 2009

Lane County 2025 by Jan Spencer

Dear Citizens of Lane County 2009,

Here are the best words from the future we have to offer to fit this space. By mid 2009, we finally admitted the economic disarray was not a recession. It was the end of a period of history - economic growth as we knew it was ending. Combined with a changing climate, erratic energy supplies and the natural environment in steep decline, we admitted it was time to redefine our cultural and economic needs.

By late 2009, leadership converged from diverse points of the city and county – government, education, unions, faith communities, nonprofits, business, neighborhoods and grange halls. The group articulated what we call the County Plan. It coordinated both urban and rural means of production for a clear and ambitious campaign to meet our county's important needs from sources closer to home in a way the environment could sustain.

The first part of the Plan created an emergency preparedness strategy that addressed a broad range of contingencies such as transportation disruptions, food and energy shortages, floods and economic instability. These contingency plans proved their value much sooner than most thought possible.

Next, the Plan identified a surprisingly large and diverse number of civic assets county wide - prototypes already in place - that fit perfectly with the goals of the County Plan. There were businesses, school curriculum, urban land use, neighborhood projects, city programs, innovative approaches to food production, energy ideas and ad hoc arrangements of all kinds Most people had no idea all this creativity was happening.

The Plan set out to expand and replicate these prototypes with new policy initiatives and unprecedented budget shifts, boosted by the “Invest Local” campaign. Transportation, food production, environmental protection and restoration, urban land use, education, neighborhoods, manufacturing all received attention that lead to impressive progress towards our goals.

Vital to the Plan's success was a public education campaign that clearly explained how and why we were making these changes. Media, schools, civic organizations, professional networks, neighborhoods all contributed to put out the message. It was during this time that we became aware of the power of community cohesion.

By 2010, suburbia ended its historic expansion as new policies placed a priority on creating urban villages. Some villages were new, but most were redeveloped from existing commercial zones, often built on increasingly empty parking lots. Now they are places for employment, residential density, shops and offices for everyday needs, culture - accessible to nearby residents by foot or bike.

The Plan was visionary in rural areas, too. Agriculture shifted to food, fiber and limited biofuel, for local use. Small towns revitalized with new residents and small businesses that sprang up to serve area markets. Lane County now feeds itself, although our diet is simple, while climate change imposes ongoing concerns.

In 2009, the County Plan and grassroots pressure on the federal government lead to new programs that created thousands of jobs restoring the forests to health by removing logging roads, planting diverse species of trees, and removing obsolete dams. We now see the benefits of this labor: improved forest biodiversity, soil conservation, clean drinking water and increasing wild salmon in local waterways. We enjoy nearby recreation, more native food and medicines from local forests with former mill towns perking up with new economies that protect the forests. Preservation remains important.

Public health has improved in many ways. Practically everyone has exercise - it's a normal part of life. Junk food is a memory, our food is fresh and vital. We focus on disease prevention, not repair and every neighborhood has a community clinic.

Schools teach practical “closer to home” skills such as resource conservation, permaculture, food sciences, effective communication and service to the community. Classes at all levels are widely available.

We have seen unimaginable changes in these years. They have been challenging but we are becoming a more compassionate culture. No one is hungry or sleeps under a bridge. We are more inclusive and multi-generational in every day life. Most people live in co-ops that are like extended families. These positive social relationships greatly benefit our quality of life and our metrics prove it.

Regional industrial coordination means the Northwest produces most of the manufactured products we need, even many kinds of sophisticated machinery. Products from rural areas and urban industries, along with human passengers now benefit from an extensive rail network in the region, supplemented with biogas buses. The new transportation choices occurred, because of budget changes in transportation policies about 2010, as money destined for new highways was redirected to rail.

Many jobs and products of your time are no longer with us, yet we enjoy diverse benefits from these changes. We value our new social cohesion more than you can probably understand. We have redefined prosperity.


Citizens of Lane County, 2025